WWI brought back to life in 3D color movie
LONDON — Black and white silent film footage from World War I has been transformed by Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson into a 3D color movie to mark the centenary of the end of the conflict.
The filmmaker painstakingly restored and colored hours of archive footage and paired it with historical veterans’ interviews and a special effects soundtrack, to bring the war back to life in an unprecedented way.
This included using lip readers to decipher what soldiers were saying in the century-old film and inserting new matching audio recorded with actors.
The film — They Shall Not Grow Old — will be unveiled for the first time at the London Film Festival next week, and simultaneously screened in different venues across the United Kingdom.
“I was absolutely gobsmacked by the time we’d finished restoring this stuff, I’d had no idea that it could be done so well,” Jackson said.
“People have restored film before, but they haven’t really restored it to the Nth degree.”
The project began four years ago in the office of Diane Lees, director-general of Britain’s Imperial War Museums.
Aware Jackson was a WWI “addict” whose grandfather fought in the conflict, Lees pitched him the idea of collaborating for the centenary of the conflict as part of “14-18 NOW”, a programme of events to commemorate the landmark.
“They wanted me to use their archival footage, but use it in a way that was surprising,” recalled Jackson, a 2004 Oscarwinner for the last film in his The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
I was absolutely gobsmacked by the time we’d finished restoring this stuff, I’d had no idea that it could be done so well.”
“I’ve looked at a lot of World War I documentaries my entire life and I thought ‘what the hell can I do with this?’ It’s not been done before.”
Working in his native New Zealand, the filmmaker used his own production company and other restoration specialists around the world to begin transforming more than 80 hours of old footage into 3D color film.
The team encountered myriad challenges, from scratches and missing frames to film that had shrunk over the century and in some cases was more than twice as slow as modern footage.
“The film became very emotional,” Jackson said of the restoration process. “The faces of the men just suddenly come to life... I’m suddenly looking at this like I’ve never seen it before.